Banana Leaves Slowly Transforming Asian Supermarkets Packaging Strategies

Plastic shopping bags
A man carries plastic shopping bags after the New York State legislature included a statewide ban on the use of single use plastic bags in their 2020 budget in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., April 2, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Plastic is gradually becoming a thing of the past in Asian supermarkets, particularly in Thailand and Vietnam. Plastics are now being substituted by biodegradable and environmentally-friendly packaging such as banana leaves.

Multiple outlets reported that Vietnam adopted the banana leaves packaging trend as spearheaded by Thailand. Some supermarkets have started using the leaves to wrap vegetables and fruits in a bid to reduce plastic waste in the countries.

The idea was first introduced by a Thai supermarket based in Chiangmai, Riping. On its Facebook page, Rimping featured a demonstration of how it is using banana leaves to wrap other degradable items. The photos showed various vegetable products such as asparagus and onion leeks wrapped in the eco-friendly packaging.

A few days later, Vietnamese supermarket giants Big C, Saigon Co.op, and Lotte Mart, featured banana leaves wrapping in their stores. In the Vietnamese shops, cucumbers and different types of lettuce are sold with the new and trendy packaging.

Before trying the Thai-inspired packaging, Vietnam's Big C already started selling biodegradable bags. The bags are made from corn powder and will not last too long but they, unlike plastics, these corn-powder bags do not have a negative impact on the environment.

Last week, VN Express reported that Lotte Mart released banana leaves packaging as part of a test that would determine if the new eco-friendly packaging will be a hit among consumers. If the test produces good results, other branches aside from its Ho Chi Minh store will also be ordered to use the biodegradable wraps.

A representative for the Vietnamese retail giant said the initiative is not limited to fruits and vegetables. Later on, Lotte Mart may also start packing meat in banana leaves as many shoppers showed increased interest in the supermarket's efforts to reduce plastic packaging.

Thailand, on the hand, continues to inspire other Asian retail providers to consider environmentally-friendly packaging. To secure the vegetables and fruits with banana leaves, Rimping uses bamboo twist ties as part of its commitment to leave off plastic from its packaging.

Rimping's social media post on its biodegradable choice has since gone viral with many people praising the company's eco-friendly decision. On the other hand, others noted that there are still a few bits of plastic on the packaging. Plastic labels where prices are indicated are still visible.

Rimping has yet to comment on the issue of small plastic labels and tape but industry analysts said the retailer's example could just be the beginning of a union among Asian supermarkets to reduce the use of plastic packaging.

In other Asian supermarkets, paper cartons are being used. Eco-bags are also largely becoming popular. While the Asian retail community may still be far from perfecting its banana leaves packaging system, industry experts believe this could spur momentum for studies on other eco-friendly options that supermarkets can look into.

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